Residents: Sewage stinks in Oldham Woods

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Something stinks in Oldham Woods — and everyone knows what it is but nobody knows what to do about it.

Residents of the subdivision, located off Old Sligo Road, rely on a private treatment pond to process wastewater from about 107 homes, which includes some from the Turtle Creek development as well.

And it’s “stinkin’ yet again,” says resident Laura Smith. “This has been a recurring problem for three years now.”

Located between the Oldham Woods and Reserve at L’Espirit subdivisions, the treatment facility — a gravity-fed lagoon — was constructed in 1988 and is under the ownership of Oldham Woods Sanitation, now owned by Georgann Martin.

Martin inherited the company from her father about five years ago.

Because it is a private treatment facility, neither city or county governments have any oversight of the pond — nor does the Oldham County Environmental Authority.

Smith said she has called the EPA, although EPA Region 4 spokesperson Davina Marraccini said there are no complaints on file.

Allison Fleck, spokesperson for the Kentucky Division of Water, said the state received a complaint about odor at the facility in May 2012.

The odor was caused by a malfunctioning aerator and that has reportedly been fixed, Fleck said.

Two of the pond’s aerators were replaced for $5,500 in 2010 after being damaged in a 2009 ice storm.

Fleck said other odor complaints have been received over the years — “but nothing unusual for systems like this,” she said.

Horace Harrod, OCEA board chair, said there are five to 12 similar treatment facilities countywide, although OCEA doesn’t keep official track of them.

Four similar OCEA-operated plants are actively being decommissioned, Harrod said, with plans for five more to come off-line in the future.

“OCEA’s role is to take as many of these package plants offline as possible and take that flow to regional facilities,” he said. “That comes with a huge price tag for small isolated plants such as Oldham Woods.”

Oldham Woods has a maximum capacity of 180,000 gallons per day — less than one-tenth of the La Grange Utilities Commission, which is currently expanding its capacity to 1.9 million gallons per day.

But, he said, plans to bring Oldham Woods into the county’s system fell through several years ago.

“The owner contacted OCEA about purchasing the treatment facility,” he said. “However, we were unable to reach an acceptable agreement.”

Cost remains an issue for Oldham Woods residents, who are still upset over a rate hike from $20 per month to $36.07 in 2010.

It was the first rate increase since the facility began operation almost 25 years ago.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission must approve rate increases — and actually encouraged Oldham Woods Sanitation owner, Martin, to make it slightly higher than she proposed.

According to a filing with the PSC, the facility had been operating at a deficit for several years and electric expenses had skyrocketed.

Because the treatment pond relies on electric-powered aerators and pumps, when Kentucky Utilities officials implemented a rate increase in July 2010, it drove up expenses.

The facility’s utility bills from 2010 show an average cost of $311 for the first six months of the year — and $530 on average for the last six months.

The new rate of $36.07 was what PSC officials determined would generate enough revenue to cover expenses.

In July 2011, 51 residents signed a petition protesting the rate increase but PSC officials ruled in September 2011 that the $36.07 rate be implemented.

The average household in Oldham County pays between $45 and $60 per month for sewer service through OCEA, Harrod said. Those figures are based on 4,000-6,000 gallons per month.

Crestwood residents and La Grange Utilities’ customers have their own rates.

Smith says she’s desperate for a solution.

“There are two new houses going up in our subdivision and they are even closer (to the pond) than we are,” Smith said. “I feel horrible for them.”

Editor’s note: Former staff writer Tracy Harris filed this story before her departure from The Oldham Era on Jan. 15. She now works for Oldham County Schools, see A3 for details. Email us about this story at: news@oldhamera.com.